Oh, we creative types talk such sense
Craig Charles shouting a poem while heading a ball was truly a genuine cultural experience
The writer and broadcaster Terence Blacker contributes a twice-weekly column on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the author of four novels, of prize-winning fiction for children, and has written a highly praised biography of the brilliant reprobate Willie Donaldson.
Tuesday 16 June 1998
Access. Redefinition. Repositioning. Sustainability. The guy's talking our language! No wonder the sector which we like to call "Arts UK plc" is now one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy, bringing in literally billions in foreign revenue every year and earning us an international reputation as the most innovative, creative nation in the world.
In a very real sense, the Taskforce has contributed to this upturn. We're not a committee, nor a quango of stuffed shirts and elitists. We're simply a group of creatives gathered together by Chris Smith who meet now and then in an informal, shirt-sleeved, Christian-names sort-of -way to prioritise the arts agenda for the coming millennium.
There's Paul Smith, the fashion designer; Gail Rebuck, the publisher; Chris de Burgh and Kiki Dee representing the music industry; a few playwrights, composers and advertising copywriters; and, representing the thriving column-writing industry, Bill Rees-Mogg and myself.
We too have produced a series of key watchwords to help creatives everywhere understand where we're coming from, arts-wise.
Holistic. We believe it's time to break down the barriers between creatives in this country. Art can be writing a symphony or painting a masterpiece, but it can also be staging a multi-racial production of Swan Lake on rollerskates, or a rap version of Tosca. Who, watching the BBC's recent festschrift for John Motson, could deny that the sight of Craig Charles shouting a poem while bouncing a football on his head was a truly genuine cultural experience?
Democratisation. The idea that so-called "great" art is produced by some sort of tortured individual universalising personal experience simply no longer applies in the sharing society to which we all belong. The Creative Industries Taskforce aims to take art out of the garret and into the mainstream of contemporary life. Just as the Prime Minister can now present future policy on the Des O'Connor Show, or Gordon Brown shares his thoughts on the European Monetary Union with tragic TV lovely Ulrika Jonsson, or Jack Straw announces his latest tough-love initiative in an open letter to The Sun, so the arts will be stepping out of their ivory tower to take their message to the people.
Synergy. Already the process has begun. Think of Pavarotti and his memorable Euro '96 hit "Nessum Dorma". Or Cliff Richard's unforgettable Heathcliff. Who's to say that Sir Richard Eyre, currently thinking the unthinkable on behalf of the committee, won't come up with a solution that combines the talents of two great West End institutions with a merger between the Royal Opera House and Ray Cooney's Theatre of Laughter?
Accessibility. The talent may be there, but is it being marketed properly? The Taskforce took a long, hard look at the poetry sector before deciding that it simply wasn't generating the kind of turnover one would expect from the nation of Shakespeare, Keats and Pam Ayres. And so we initiated our famous "Poets in the Community" scheme. For a month, thanks to us, poets were everywhere. In offices and schools, on street corners, at the checkout tills of supermarkets. Apart from a few unfortunate incidents when members of the public objected to being harangued in incomprehensible blank verse by some evil-smelling, unshaven stranger, the operation was a huge success.
Productivity. No one's expecting art on demand but there's no such thing as a free lunch - we'll be looking for a regular, steady increase in growth and output over the coming fiscal year. As BBC radio now proves every five minutes or so, there's nothing inherently wrong in self-promotion and, now that artists will be expected to work in partnership with corporate sponsors, a certain amount of give-and-take on matters of product placement will be expected. So far as public funding is concerned, we shall be watching output with particular care.
Duty. In this exciting new age of generalised co-operation, creatives will be expected to play their part. Of course, they can be social gadflies, but they should always remember their responsibilities and avoid going too far. Think Sir John Mortimer. Think Sir David Hare. Criticism, but "civilised" criticism, will be the watchword for creatives everywhere.
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